Chinese bible

"I’ve seen how people’s hearts are softened through this pandemic; they are more open to the Gospel. I truly believe that the time to reap the harvest is now," said Rev Dr Chern to the Chinese Church. Photo by chris liu on Unsplash.

As we entered 2021, many hoped that we could revert to pre-Covid normalcy. Much to our disappointment, we were still battling against the virus tirelessly.

Over the past two years, many pastors reflected on how this crisis could pose as an opportunity for the Church.

This, too, was something God impressed upon my heart for the past two years and, as I looked at the evangelism efforts of the churches, I really pondered over this.

Every year, Singapore and Malaysia Chinese readers (via local Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao) would collectively select one character to describe that particular year and, in 2021, both countries chose“盼”(hope).

I believe it is everyone’s hope that the battle against Covid-19 would come to an end. But for the church, our greater hope is for more people to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. 

Are we falling prey to stereotypes?

As we’re serving in our pastoral ministries or engaged in church-planting work, we often face many disturbances. They may not necessarily be from God or the people around us, but could be a result of our own narrow-mindedness. Our thoughts have restricted our service unto God.

Throughout my years in full-time ministry since 1995, and stepping up as the senior pastor in 2004, I have visited various churches and have had deep conversations with the pastors.

Rev Dr Chern speaking in Mandarin at the Pastors’ Prayer Summit 2022.

It occurred to me in recent years, that perhaps the work within the Singapore Chinese church community may have been hindered due to certain stereotypes.

For instance, I’ve heard many comment that Chinese ministries are “sunset ministries”. The fact of the matter is that the elderly in the majority in Chinese churches and ministries, and those aged 24-35 are declining in number.

Another misconception is that, because most Singaporeans are English-speaking, many Chinese churches and ministries have decided to focus all their work on evangelising solely to foreigners from China, Malaysia, Taiwan, and other countries.

We have to ask ourselves: Are these stereotypes true?

Is it true that majority of Singaporeans are English-speaking? And is the future of Chinese churches catered only to the elderly and Chinese dialect groups?

A mighty harvest field

Let’s look at some statistics from the Singapore Census of Population 2020. This is important because behind each number is a soul to be saved, and each soul has a family that we can reach out to as well.

The number of Christians in Singapore, aged 15 and above, has increased from 18.3% to 18.9% from 2010 to 2020. While we celebrate this growth in number, we ought to be aware that the rate of increase in the number of believers over the decades, from 1980 onwards, is actually a decreasing one. 

1980 – 9.9%
1990 – 12.5%
2000 – 14.6%
2010 – 18.4%
2020 – 18.9%

Amongst the Chinese, the number of Christians has also increased from 20.1% to 21.6% from 2010 to 2020. But, similarly, the rate of growth is also slowing down.

1980 – 10.9%
1990 – 14.1%
2000 – 16.5%
2010 – 20.1%
2020 – 21.6%

While Buddhism still remains the largest religious group (40.4%), the number of Chinese people who do not have any religious affiliation increased from 17% in 2010, to 20% in 2020.

That means that 1 in every 4 Singaporeans aged 25 to 34 does not have any religious affiliation.

This age group has seen the greatest increase from 2010 to 2020, with an increasing trend reported in other age groups as well.

Have people become disappointed with religious communities?

Pastors and leaders from Chinese churches and ministries joining their voices to pray in unison at Summit 2022.

These statistics discussed look only at residents (that is, Singapore citizens and PRs) and there is so much hope in bringing this big group of people to Christ. But many churches have chosen to forfeit this group of people, to focus on evangelising to foreigners. Why is this so?

Have people become disappointed with religious communities?

The Census also shows that amongst residents aged 15 and above, 79.6% are literate in Chinese and that is equivalent to more than 2.03 million people. Dear pastors, we have a huge harvest field! Unless we’re speaking ancient Chinese language at the pulpit, these 2.03 million people are those that you can invite to church and will be able to understand what you are sharing.

Truth be told, I know of some Chinese pastors who are not very proficient in Mandarin. Most of us are using localised Mandarin so that the majority of the people, including those who are largely English-speaking, are still able to understand.

Again, 2.03 million people is a large pool. And I’d like to stress that these people are aged 15 and above, not 50. Your church/ministry outreach target could be just 1% or even 0.1%, and that would be an encouraging growth in number.

I often share this example with my leaders: When people use English to converse with me, I’d do the same too. And many a times this gives a wrong impression that we assume this person only speaks English because of what we’ve heard. Even our church/ministry members say the same about their colleagues and loved ones around them. But that may not be the case!

It may only be because of the context of the conversation that the individual is using English, but that doesn’t mean he/she doesn’t speak Mandarin. Who knows, he/she might speak very fluent Mandarin. This is one big misconception, so much so that it has affected the atmosphere of our Chinese ministries and even our confidence to reap the harvest.

Be ready to reap

I’m actually very encouraged by the work that our dialect ministry is doing. A few years ago, I heard them saying how in 10 years’ time, dialects may disappear. What they did thereafter, was that they ramped up their evangelism efforts. I was so touched by that and thought to myself: “What more the Chinese church? We have so many people unsaved, why do we restrict our ministry to serving just the elderly?”

Up to 57% of residents indicated Chinese as the most, or second most, frequently used language spoken at home. Within the Chinese population, 76.1% indicated so as well. 

So back to the two questions:

  1. Is it true that majority of Singaporeans are English-speaking?
  2. Is the future of Chinese churches catered only to the elderly and other dialect groups?

My conclusion would be: No.

At least based on the statistics provided, Singapore has a large group of Chinese-literate people aged 15 and above. We should not be closed off by our own thoughts but instead do our part to reach out to them.

It is no longer a matter of speaking in English or Chinese, but the condition of the church. Are we still relevant to people today?

Quite often, a person’s decision to come to church is independent of language. Why do I say so? Because I know that English-speaking churches are growing at a slower rate too.

It is no longer a matter of speaking in English or Chinese, but the condition of the church. Are we still relevant to people today?

If the Chinese churches don’t seize the opportunity to share the Gospel, these numbers will dwindle in the next 10 years.

It is true that Covid-19 has offered us greater opportunities to spread the Gospel. I’ve seen how people’s hearts are softened through this pandemic; they are more open to the Gospel, including those who used to be “stiff-necked”. I truly believe that the time to reap the harvest is now.

But we have to be ready.

Perhaps some of us may not feel fully equipped, but we have to try; we have to start preparing.

The God of miracles

I want to encourage all our Chinese pastors that I believe the calling God has given to each and every one of us is real, and it will come to pass. We need to:

  • 抓紧时机 Seize the opportunity We need to snatch each soul behind the numbers before they dwindle.
  • 找到方法 Find a strategy We cannot just depend on evangelistic services on Easter or Christmas to reap the harvest. Come up with a plan that your church can carry out on a more regular basis.
  • 调整体制 Renew the church body Work together with your leaders to make shifts and tweaks in the church to create a more vibrant atmosphere.
  • 付诸行动 Go into the community Take action and do something!

I believe that, while we reap the harvest, our faith will be tested.

Seize the opportunity, find a strategy, renew the church body and go into the community, Rev Dr Chern urged leaders of the Chinese Church.

But there lies a large group of Chinese-speaking people whom God loves, waiting for us to invite them into the doors of the church. We need to have faith to reap the harvest, for faith pleases God.

I’ve come across a quote from the Happiness Group resources that my church is using.

没有付不起的代价,只有看不见的价值。要赢的灵魂一定会忙碌,唯有靠主改变我们的心态和生活方式来得胜有余。

(There is no cost too much to bear, only its worth we cannot see. Winning souls is a laborious journey. Only through Christ can we change the way we walk and talk, to become more than conquerors.)

Every pastor should desire growth and revival within the church. When we become indifferent towards people who have yet to know Christ, or are too caught up with affairs of our own congregation, no amount of preaching can divert their attention to beyond the walls of the church.

God encouraged me with this sentence: “If you dare to do the ridiculous, I will do the miraculous.”

Many Singaporeans are suffering mentally and have a longing to be fulfilled. If the church would just do something different and take action to go into the community, I believe there would be a change. After all, it is God who moves and saves.

Last year, I faced quite a number of health complications and had more things on my plate. God encouraged me with this sentence: “If you dare to do the ridiculous, I will do the miraculous.”

I wasn’t in my best condition when I was serving the Lord, but He just requires you to be a willing vessel. Even with broken vessels can God work, if only you let Him.

Let’s not be in a position of unpreparedness.

I believe God is working in a multi-faceted way, He is touching not just you, but also preparing others. Even if we start small, God can use it to influence others so that we can bear much fruit.

So, let’s start with having faith that God will help as we share the Good News.


This message by Rev Dr Chern Hock Chye was delivered at the Chinese track of the LoveSingapore Pastors’ Prayer Summit 2022 in January. It was translated by Cheryl Lew and is published with permission.


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About the author

Rev Dr Chern Hock Chye

Rev Dr Chern Hock Chye is the Senior Pastor of Renewal Christian Church.

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